McCarthy Helps Bella Vista High School Enhance STEM Program
Science, Technology, Engineering and Math, or STEM, is on the mind of many educators throughout the nation. Today's modern economy has a tremendous need for people who are trained in these disciplines. Recently, Bella Vista High School in Fair Oaks, California, and part of the San Juan Unified School District, underwent construction. The construction enabled the school, which has earned a reputation as having one of the region's leading science programs, to have the facilities for a STEM focus.
McCarthy Building Companies was selected as the contractor for Bella Vista High School. The employee-owned company, which was established in 1864 and is headquartered in St. Louis, Missouri, was selected from a host of applicants. Brett Mitchell, Director of Facilities Construction & Modernization for San Juan Unified, noted some of the factors the district considered when looking for a contractor: best value model, use of technology, safety record, ability to solicit local participation, cost of work, and experience. "McCarthy had the best project work plan as it was the least intrusive on the school's daily operations," said Mitchell. The project, which began in June 2016, lasted 14 months, covering an entire school year.
Mitchell noted the goals of the project were to add capacity to the school site so teachers could have their own classrooms rather than having to travel. Another goal was to accentuate the successful science program that was already present at the high school. The project involved taking two old parallel buildings and turning them into classrooms that could accommodate modern requirements. Architects at Arch-Nexus came up with an innovative plan to turn the two 1950's era buildings into one modern building and to incorporate the outdoor area into an indoor 5,000-square-foot flexible-learning space.
Ian McQuoid served as the Project Director for McCarthy and managed the project from its inception through the RFP stage and up to the very end. He said of the construction process, "We demolished part of the old buildings, saved the structure and added on to them." He notes that structural members had to be reinforced, and some were even replaced due to unforeseen issues. Once replaced, McCarthy worked with the client and design team to fix the items and complete the project on time and on budget. The new facility includes 11 next-generation classrooms that now tout much needed new flooring, lighting and window replacements, along with new teaching walls with built-in TVs.
Better Space Utilization
Students and faculty began making use of the new facility at Bella Vista High School this fall. Principal Peggy Haskins, who has been at Bella Vista for 11 years, appreciates the functionality of the new space. According to Haskins, the five former classrooms were enormous with little infrastructure to support today's classroom functions, while elsewhere on campus there were packed classrooms. Now, Haskins says, "Both students and faculty marvel at the beauty and function of the finished product." She noted the new construction has energized everyone, and added, "It's phenomenal to see how a modern, well-equipped building sets the stage for more engaged teaching and learning."
Mitchell was also impressed with McCarthy's work. "What our architect came up with was brilliant as it took the typical finger layout of a building and turned it into a single space. It was innovative in that it took existing square feet on the campus, which was useless for education, and made it into usable space. McCarthy did a great job of making the architectural vision a reality."
Technology Aids in Collaboration
Collaboration is another staple of a McCarthy project. McQuoid noted an innovative way that McCarthy keeps its clients informed of a project. "We have virtual reality goggles. Through these goggles, we were able to give the teachers and administrators a sense of what the building would look and feel like," said McQuoid. McCarthy performed this exercise early in the process and made changes based on client feedback.
Mitchell appreciated McCarthy's collaborative efforts. "From start to finish, we routinely and thoroughly evaluated campus needs from a design and use perspective. To mitigate changes as early as possible, our site staff was involved throughout the comprehensive process to identify and address any challenges."
The district procured the project through a lease-leaseback delivery method. McQuoid says this allowed McCarthy to get in early for the preconstruction phase to work with the design team. They were able to collaborate and work through constructability issues that arose and get on site early to find potential issues.
While the praise for the new construction is universal, getting to the finish line was a challenge. "Anytime you take two buildings that were built in the 1960's and are trying to make a 21st learning environment, you're bound to run into challenges," says McQuoid. The team has lots of experience in this field. McCarthy's Sacramento office, which is one of the 16 offices the company has in the United States, specializes in education.
According to Mitchell, issues arose throughout the project, which Mitchell, who has a good deal of experience working with contractors, noted could have been contentious. However, things were always professional and good relations were maintained. "Sometimes, you have to have difficult conversations and they lead to solutions. McCarthy showed a real commitment to the project which helped us retain the relationship," says Mitchell.
Flooring was one of these issues. McQuoid notes the initial cost of the floor that the school and district wanted came in above budget. However, McCarthy was able to work with Bella Vista staff to come up with an alternative that was on budget and satisfied their needs.
Evidence of that good relationship and exceptional experience also extends beyond this project, with McCarthy currently working on two other projects for the San Juan School district. "We have cool ideas for schools and are happy to work with them and build their campuses," says McQuoid.
For Bella Vista High School, the "cool ideas" have led to a unique cutting-edge learning space that will benefit students in countless ways. Principal Haskins said, "I believe that this building will provide our teachers and students the ability perform at higher levels of achievement. I can't wait to see what comes out of our Engineering Pathway Program now that it has the space and equipment for students to flourish."